PHILADELPHIA -- It was a confusing finish in a confounding regular season that will reach its final weekend with the New York Giants still, somehow, contenders.
"There's a lot of guys in the league trying to find motivation to make it through that last game," defensive tackle Erik Howard said. "We have a reason, and that makes it fun."
The reason: Thanks to yesterday's nerve-racking 16-13 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at Veterans Stadium, the Giants can make the playoffs if they beat Dallas and Tampa defeats Green Bay on Saturday.
"[The Bucs'] Sam Wyche has always been, to me, the best coach in the league," Giants coach Dan Reeves deadpanned. "Good luck, Sam."
The astounding thing, of course, is that the Giants lost seven games in a row this season, before beginning their current five-game winning streak. No NFL team ever has made the playoffs after losing seven consecutive games in that season.
"When you lose seven in a row, you're written off for dead, and probably rightfully so," Giants quarterback Dave Brown said.
Then again, maybe not. Do you believe in miracles? No, wait: Wrong catch-phrase. The ending to yesterday's game bore much more resemblance to the 1972 Olympic gold-medal basketball game.
"I thought about the Olympics, when the Russians were playing the Americans way back when," said wide receiver Mike Sherrard, who at 31 is one of the few Giants old enough to remember that notorious game. Then, the Soviet team was given three tries with three seconds left before finally beating the United States. Yesterday, the Eagles got two tries with two seconds left. Sort of.
The confusion started when Eagles quarterback Bubby Brister, trailing 16-13 with no timeouts left, completed a pass to Victor Bailey at the 27 with about nine seconds left. Willie Beamon tackled Bailey, keeping him inbounds, but as the clock ran out, Giants linebacker Jessie Armstead picked up the ball and began running down the sideline.
"He didn't blow the whistle," Armstead said, an assertion supported by several teammates.
The officials ruled that Armstead improperly delayed the game, and gave the Eagles two seconds on the clock, although the scoreboard clock still read :00. Brister spiked the ball to stop the clock. The officials then ruled the Eagles still had one second left, even though the scoreboard now read :02. After referee Gordon McCarter cleared the field of players, coaches and cameramen, Eagles place-kicker Eddie Murray got a chance at a game-tying 44-yard field goal. He missed wide left.
The Eagles thus extended their losing streak to six and were eliminated. The Giants lived to see another day.
"Somehow, some way," Brown said. "It's just another gray hair for me. I'm maturing and developing a little faster than I think I want to."
The Eagles took a 7-0 lead with 2:45 left in the first quarter, converting a drive that began at the Giants' 40 after Mike Zordich intercepted Brown. The touchdown came on a 27-yard pass from Brister to former Giant Mark Bavaro.
Murray's 32-yard field goal 5:13 before halftime made it 10-0, but a 47-yarder by Brad Daluiso got the Giants within 10-3 with :04 left before intermission. Another trade of field goals kept the Eagles ahead 13-6 midway through the fourth quarter.
Randolph then intercepted Brister, giving the Giants the ball at the Eagles' 44. They took advantage when David Meggett ran up the middle from the 5 and rolled over ex-teammate and close friend Greg Jackson into the end zone with 3:54 left.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Eagles' Jeff Sydner rammed into a teammate and fumbled, and Willie Beamon recovered for the Giants at the 37. The Giants were on the verge of wasting the opportunity when they faced third-and-16 from the 42, but Brown rolled to his right and found Meggett, his fourth option, alone for a gain to the Eagles' 8.
Three plays later, Daluiso kicked an 18-yarder with 54 seconds left, another in a series of late-game Giants heroics.
The play with Meggett, who hit the ground to block blitzing linebacker William Thomas before scrambling to his feet to catch the pass, symbolized the Giants' season.
"Absolutely my first time," said Meggett, a Towson State alum. "I've never cut a guy and then caught the ball. It's just a presence of mind type of thing. It's just being a football player."
Or being a Giant in 1994.